‘Sign of Our Repentance’: Weakland’s Name Expunged From Milwaukee Church Building

COMMENTARY: Personal corruption, more than bad governance, should have been the main reason for Archbishop Listecki to remove his predecessor’s name.

Archbishop Jerome of Listecki of Milwaukee removed the names of predecessors Archbishops William Cousins and  Rembert Weakland (above) from church property.
Archbishop Jerome of Listecki of Milwaukee removed the names of predecessors Archbishops William Cousins and Rembert Weakland (above) from church property. (photo: TANNEN MAURY/AFP/Getty Images)

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee has removed the names of two of his predecessors, William Cousins and Rembert Weakland, from church buildings because they were negligent in handling allegations of sexual abuse by priests of minors.

Archbishop Cousins was archbishop of Milwaukee from 1958 to 1977. Yet the case, in particular regarding Archbishop Weakland, who served in Milwaukee from 1977 to 2002, illustrates the scandal of clerical corruption is broader than just sexual abuse of minors.

Given his well-known homosexual affairs, and the archdiocesan money he used to cover it up, it is astonishing that Archbishop Weakland’s name was still on a church building in 2019. While dealing more forthrightly with the sexual abuse of minors is a good thing in itself, the rooting out of corruption in the priesthood cannot proceed as long as other scandalous behavior is downplayed or even ignored.

In a letter to his archdiocese, Archbishop Listecki reviews the history of handling sexual-abuse claims in Milwaukee and announces that, “as a sign of our repentance, and because of the pain caused to abuse survivors and their families with regard to the handling of sexual-abuse allegations, I will change the name of the Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center and ask the parish of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist to remove the name of Archbishop Rembert Weakland from its parish pastoral center. This is similar to decisions made by other bishops throughout the United States.”

In reviewing that history, Archbishop Listecki writes the following:

“In 2002, I think most Catholics were simply shocked to read the news reports of priests abusing minors. As I said, during my priesthood, never could I have imagined such a thing. But today, I think most Catholics react in anger, an anger which I share. News of cover-ups from years past, and information that some dioceses haven’t adhered to the demands of the [Dallas] Charter, has broken people’s trust in the Church and its leaders, namely bishops.”

All true certainly, but might there have been something else from 2002 that eroded trust between the people and the archbishop in Milwaukee?

Might it have been the allegation from Paul Marcoux, made on national television, that he had suffered a “date rape” at the hands of Archbishop Weakland, who later paid him $450,000 out of diocesan funds to hush it up?

Archbishop Weakland denied that it was sexual assault, but admitted to having a homosexual relationship with Marcoux. He said that the archdiocese paid the secret settlement, but that his own donations to the diocese more than made up for it. That was not true.

His resignation as archbishop of Milwaukee was accepted soon after the Marcoux affair was revealed. That was in May 2002. Later, in his 2009 memoir, Archbishop Weakland admitted to a series of homosexual affairs.

There were consequences. Archbishop Listecki has largely removed his predecessor from the scene, and he lives alone now with no public role. A Benedictine monk, he has been rejected by two abbeys where he wished to live in retirement.

Archbishop Weakland’s record on sexual-abuse cases is the reason that his name, along with that of Archbishop William Cousins, who served 1959-1977, was removed from diocesan buildings. And it is a record that is spectacularly bad.

Archbishop Weakland presided over one of the most horrific cases, that of Father Lawrence Murphy, a predator priest who preyed on deaf children in the 1970s. The Milwaukee shepherd knew about the case for decades before he belatedly moved in 1996 to investigate and begin a canonical trial.

Father Murphy died in 1998, and, in 2010, Archbishop Weakland participated in a scurrilous attempt to blame Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for frustrating his attempts to obtain justice for Father Murphy’s victims. The archbishop resorted, not for the first time, to public lies to cover his own record.

So the question might be put: What was Archbishop Weakland’s name doing on a diocesan building until two weeks ago? And why does its removal on the grounds of mishandling of sexual-abuse cases not mention the elephant in the chancery, namely the scandalous conduct of Archbishop Weakland himself, perfidy both sexual and financial?

The two questions are obviously related. That there was a network of homosexually active priests in Milwaukee in the 1970s and 1980s was not exactly a secret. That Archbishop Weakland was part of it is now known, given his own autobiographical admission.

Is it unreasonable to think that perhaps he gave predator priests a pass because they may have threatened to expose his own sexual misconduct?

Archbishop Listecki did the right thing for the right reason in removing Archbishop Weakland’s name, as well as — even more incredible to recall — a bas-relief in the cathedral itself that included Archbishop Weakland. But bad governance was not the only reason for Archbishop Weakland’s name to go. Personal corruption ought to matter, too.

Father Raymond J. de Souza is the editor in chief of Convivium magazine.